Modern double-decker buses can move far morepeople per hourthan almost any rail system.
car trains. For safety reasons, most light-railsystems allow no more than 20 trains perhour, so depending on train lengths, lightrail can move only 6,000 to 12,000 peopleper hour.Heavy rail refers to subways and elevatedsthat operate exclusively in their own right of way. Train cars can hold about 150 people,and platform lengths generally limit trainlengths to about 8 (in Washington) to 11 (inNew York City) cars. Most heavy-rail linescan safely allow about 20 trains per hour,though New York City schedules some at30 trains per hour. At 30 trains per hourwith 11-car trains, a heavy-rail line can movenearly 50,000 people per hour.Commuter trains are highly variable, po-tentially having lots of seats per train buthaving lower safe operating frequenciesthan other types of rail, yielding capacitiesmidway between light and heavy rail. Somecommuter trains, which the FTA calls “hy-brid rail,” have capacities similar to light rail.For comparison, researchers have foundthat a single bus stop can serve 42 buses anhour.
A single bus stop occupies less thanhalf a city block, and since buses typically stop no more frequently than every otherblock, some cities, such as Portland, havestaggered bus stops in downtown areas sothat a two-block stretch of street accommo-dates four bus stops serving 168 buses perhour.Modern double-decker buses can have80 or more seats with room for 40 or morepeople standing. That gives a capacity of more than 20,000 people per hour, far morethan any light-rail line. At 60 miles per hour,a single lane of a highway can accommo-date more than 1,100 buses per hour withsix bus-lengths between every bus, making itpossible to move 132,000 people per hour indouble-decker buses, which is far more thanany subway or commuter-rail line.To avoid the confusion with weight, thispaper will use the terms
low-capacity rail tran- sit
for what has previously been called lightrail, and
high-capacity rail transit
for what haspreviously been called heavy rail. (Note thatthe initials, LR and HR, remain the same.) By
Table 1Transit Capacities in People per Hour
Type of Transit Seats perVehicleStandees perVehicleVehicles in Train Frequenciesper HourPeople perHour
High-capacity rail7080 8 to 11 20 to 30 24,000–49,500Low-capacity rail7080 2 to 4 20 6,000–12,000Streetcar3070 1 20 2,000Bus on streets4020 1 168 10,080DD bus on streets8040 1 168 20,160Bus on highway4020 1 1,100 66,000DD bus onhighway 8040 1 1,100 132,000
Source: Calculations based on vehicles in the National Transit Database.Notes: Buses can move more people per hour than most rail transit, plus they offer seats to a larger share of rid-ers. “DD bus” refers to double-decker buses. These capacities are based on typical vehicles operated by Americantransit agencies. Most published counts of standing capacities are based on “crush capacity,” which is far tighterthan Americans will accept. The standee numbers here are more typical of the point at which peak-hour crowdedconditions cause people to wait for the next bus or train.